- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

The attorneys for sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad have kept clients off death row in five of the six capital murder cases they have represented, a fact their colleagues attribute to a shared faith in the rights of the accused and a vehement opposition to the death penalty.

Jonathan Shapiro and Peter D. Greenspun, who together have 54 years of legal experience, have been involved in some of the Washington metropolitan area’s most notorious cases.

Mr. Greenspun, 50, is perhaps best known for helping to defend NBC sportscaster Marv Albert in 1997 on assault charges stemming from a sexual encounter in Arlington. Mr. Shapiro, 54, was thrust into the spotlight in 2000 when the accused child killer he was defending punched him during a court hearing.

However, neither lawyer is likely to handle a more notorious case than the one they were assigned last fall: the sniper case of Mr. Muhammad.

The case is unlike any other, said David P. Baugh, a lawyer from Richmond and a friend of Mr. Greenspun.

Last fall’s random shooting spree affected not one person, or one family, but entire communities in the Washington area, Mr. Baugh said. Both lawyers must deal with extensive pretrial publicity that left many residents convicting both suspects — Lee Boyd Malvo is being tried separately — even before the first of the two trials had begun, he said.

Mr. Baugh likened the lawyers’ commitment to providing a fair defense for Mr. Muhammad to that of a Western hero standing up for the accused in the face of a lynch mob.

“Jonathan and Peter are not only good lawyers, they’re good Americans,” Mr. Baugh said. “They believe and have faith in our law system. There are scholars and there are dirty, knock-down street fighters. [Mr. Greenspun and Mr. Shapiro] are scholars. These men are students of the philosophy of law. They are able to articulate and translate into common understanding the lofty goals of our system.”

Mr. Greenspun, who is based in Fairfax, and Mr. Shapiro, who is based in Alexandria, were not available to comment for this article.

It is the devotion to the justice system that, colleagues say, prompted Mr. Shapiro in November 2000 to plead with an Alexandria judge to let him continue defending Gregory D. Murphy, even though the man had sucker-punched him, knocking him unconscious during a pretrial hearing. Murphy, of Alexandria, was charged with the April 2000 stabbing death of 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett of Alexandria.

“He is a very conscientious lawyer. He’s a very thorough lawyer,” said Joseph Bowman, who was Mr. Shapiro’s co-counsel in the Murphy case. “He was on top of that case and had pretty much reviewed every single police report, every single forensics report, every trial the defendant had had in the past in a record amount of time.”

The judge denied Mr. Shapiro’s request to stay on the case. Murphy was later diagnosed as schizophrenic and deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Mr. Bowman described Mr. Shapiro as “vehemently anti-death penalty.”

“When you get into a death penalty case with him, that’s really a driving force in the case,” Mr. Bowman said.

Soon after the Murphy case, Mr. Shapiro helped defend Brian P. Regan, the man from Bowie who faced the death penalty on charges that he offered to spy for Iraq, Libya and China. Last spring, Mr. Shapiro convinced a federal jury to give Regan life in prison, instead of death.

In his 29 years as an attorney, Mr. Shapiro lost one client to death row — an experience that reportedly left him unable to return to his practice for several days after his client’s execution.

The client was Wilbert Lee Evans, who was charged and later found guilty of killing an Alexandria sheriff’s deputy in 1981 while trying to escape from jail. Three years later, Evans sided with guards and saved lives during a death-row uprising at Mecklenburg Correctional Center. Evans was executed in 1990.

“I worked on his case for eight years,” Mr. Shapiro told the Virginian-Pilot earlier this month. “A relationship forms. You begin to see that there is no one who doesn’t have some good in them.”

Though best known as one of Mr. Albert’s attorneys, Mr. Greenspun built his reputation as a “go-to guy” on local murder cases.

When the Washingtonian magazine listed Mr. Greenspun as one of the region’s top 75 lawyers in 2002, the publication noted, “He often wins the unwinnable. … There aren’t many high-profile Virginia cases in which Greenspun, a master of his craft, hasn’t been involved.”

Mr. Albert’s trial concluded after the sportscaster pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. He received no jail time and had the conviction cleared from his record.

A former president of the Fairfax Bar Association, Mr. Greenspun also is well-known for his defense of Caleb D. Hughes, a groundskeeper from Prince William County who in 1989 was charged with abducting 5-year-old Melissa Lee Brannen of Lorton. Mr. Greenspun tried his best to represent Hughes, even calling FBI hair-and-fiber expert Douglas Deedrick, who five years later was called to testify in the O.J. Simpson case.

In 1991, Hughes was sentenced to 50 years in state prison. Melissa has not yet been found.

Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Greenspun have been assigned to work together before. Last year, they were asked to defend Edward Y. Chen of Fairfax, accused of killing his parents and his older brother in 1995.

Last December, the lawyers averted a trial and worked out a 36-year prison sentence for Chen, who admitted to shooting his family members and leaving their bodies in the family’s home for nearly four years. Chen, 27, could have faced three life prison terms.

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